Now that the Horns have held onto the #1 ranking for one full week, I thought I might open the distasteful but titillating comparison of the 2005 MNC team and this 2008 Longhorn team. Many view the 2005 team as an inevitable force of nature with VY as the eye of the hurricane. Nervous tentative comments about this years team, driven by scars from meltdowns in 2006 and 2007, would have us believe that the 2008 Horns are getting by on moxie, wiliness, and smoke and mirrors. Others would argue that this is silly because we haven't seen what the 2008 team can do for a whole season. I thought the question worth entertaining because I sense the fans could have a little more confidence in this 2008 team.
I'm here to argue that the play of the 2008 team is every bit a force of nature as that of 2005, only different. If the 2005 team was a hurricane, the 2008 team is an army of loggers with chainsaws and unlimited fuel. The teams, or "trees," on the schedule will be chopped down with ruthless efficiency rather than speed and fury. As college football fans, we are used to seeing teams win through explosive plays and dominant defenses; other methods of success are suspect. But this Horns team is as capable of chewing through teams as a top NFL offense.
In some ways, 2008 may be more likely to be our year than 2009 because the transcendant play of Brian Orakpo, who may be as dominant at DE as VY was at QB, will not be in play in 2009. That doesn't mean 2009 won't be a MNC year, it just means that this 2008 team, while young in many areas, has terrific talent that is capable of winning against all comers.
The 2005 team was a cult of VY's personality (not that that's bad, just different) that died when he left, particularly on defense. The 2008 Horns rely on many more players and in that sense can win in many more ways. If the outcome seems in doubt in more games than in 2005, I think the quality of opposing teams is much better this year. VY was such a dominant player that defenses had to sacrifice deep safeties and LB drops to keep him in check, which opened up the middle for David Thomas and Billy Pittman and allowed Vince to pass effectively with easy throws over the middle. The 2008 team is a cerebral team with high football IQ players scattered throughout the roster (Ulatoski, Hall, McCoy, Ogbonnaya, Shipley, Cosby, Miller, Orakpo, Muckelroy, Gideon), and the mental capabilities of this team are worth including in any consideration of talent.
There were numerous future NFL stars starting on the 2005 roster, but such future stars are on the 2008 roster as well, but they are less obvious because we lack the 20/20 hindsight. Barring injury, Ulatoski, Hix, Hall, Cosby, Shipley, Williams, McCoy,and Cody Johnson will all make NFL rosters. On defense, Orakpo will be a top 10 draft choice, and Kindle will follow a year later. Gideon, Thomas, Chykie Brown, and Muckelroy will all eventually make NFL rosters as well.
Let's break it down by position group
QB - Vince Young, one for the ages vs. Colt McCoy, already the most accurate and prolific passer in UT history and undeniable field leader, Slight EDGE to 2005 and only because VY's accomplishments are proven with a Big 12 title and MNC, which Colt does not yet have.
RB - a young Jamal Charles +Selvin Young+ Ramonce Taylor vs. Cerberus - slight EDGE to 2005, mostly because of Taylor
TE - David Thomas vs. Blaine Irby - EDGE 2005, but mostly because Irby is injured
WR - a green Limas Sweed, Billy Pittman, Nate Jones, a young Quan Cosby vs. senior Cosby, Shipley, Collins, Kirkendoll, and Williams EDGE 2008
OL - Scott, Sendlein, Blalock, Studdard vs. Ulatoski, Tanner, Hall, Dockery, Hix. EVEN, given the way Tanner has been playing. 2005 was a better run-blocking unit, but 2008 is a better pass-blocking group.
DL - EDGE to 2008 with Melton, Houston, and Rak, who anchor arguably the best, and certainly the fastest, D line in the country.
LB - Given that Bobino, as a redshirt freshman, was a star of the 2005 group and has been supplanted by Kindle, Muckelroy, and Norton, BIG EDGE to 2008.
Secondary - No need to dive in here, the 2008 group is just too young - BIG EDGE to 2005
Kicking - Hunter Lawrence has a bigger, more accurate leg than any 2005 kicker, and no kicker has been more money than Ryan Bailey. Punting seems about even. EDGE 2008
Kick returning and blocking - Shipley and Cosby aren't bad, with both having returned kickoffs for touchdowns in the past 9 games, but few Texas returners have been as exciting as Ramonce Taylor. Michael Griffin and Brian Robison from 2005 were masters at blocking kicks. EDGE to 2005.
So that leaves 2005 having better talent than 2008 by one position group, and that was mostly due to the skills of Ramonce Taylor, for which there is no equivalent on the 2008 squad (as much as we might want Chiles to be that guy).
I think we should stop thinking about the 2008 team as college football's version of the '69 Mets, or as overachieving lunch pail types. Believe people - all those recruting classes have yielded talent that is now producing on the field. Let's understand that this is a special team that has the chance to be one of the all-time greats, right up there with 2005.